[There’s this poem that my cousin and I stumbled upon a couple years ago and it describes some of these feelings of smallness extremely accurately. Even if you don’t read any of this post, please check out this chilling spoken word performance: “Shrinking Women” by Lily Myers]
I don’t know what it is about Filipino dads but why are they charged with so much anger and aggression? Rabid eyes + defensive stance (hunched shoulders, one hand in a clenched fist while the other is pointing a finger towards someone they’re attacking) + clicking tongue + head-splitting, thunderous voice.
“Why are you home so late?” / “BAKIT NGAYON KA LANG?”
“You can live on the streets!” / “LUMAYAS KA!”
“I will send you back to the Philippines!” / “BABALIK KITA SA PINAS!”
“I’m not going to pay for your college.” / “Hindi ko siya pag-aaralin.”
“You’re not going to amount to anything.” / “Wala kang mararating kung ganyan ka.”
[Infamous Tagalog Honorable Mentions include: “Bwusit kang bata ka!” / “Anak ng puta -” / “Walang cuenta”]
No amount of italicized, bolded, or underlined words can accurately depict the tone that they use to jab every single word into you – to make sure you’re listening, to make sure they have the upper hand, to make sure that fear is synonymous to their definition of a father. Whenever I bring it up to my mom, she replies with a meager, “That’s how Filipinos are.” I’m sure it’s a dangerous generalization to make but I know that we aren’t the only kids suffering from this kind of treatment. Parenting is different for all families and it’s the one thing that I never really wanted to touch on since it’s such a private, sensitive topic and usually, the conclusion that we always come to terms with is at least we have parents in the first place. But I think I need to showcase a bit of realness about the strict [Asian] parent, especially because I can’t even bring it up in my actual family right now. The part that sucks is that there’s such a large grey area. You can’t label them the hero or the villain, which makes sense because they’re parents and they’re supposed to be both at one point or another. There are times when you love them and think they’re the best for sacrificing so much for you and then there are times when they do things that really really really really hurt you – not enough to call the police on them, but enough to plant that seed of hatred in your heart for a looooooong time.
One of my friends suggested writing a letter to confront my dad about conflicts in the family, but knowing him, he would easily dismiss it as a complaint due to us not knowing what’s best for us. I thought I would write all the things I’d want to say to him nonetheless because the internet is a powerful place and if anyone reading this can relate even just a little bit, it would make this whole situation better. Here it is:
Out of all the vices that you inherited, pride and wrath have become the driving forces of your actions. You crave a good image in front of the public so much that you pummel us with hurtful words from time to time in order to keep us line, to make sure that we’re within your vision of exceptional children (ones that you can brag about to others so that you have yet another factor of superiority over other people).
Control. It’s all about that, isn’t it? The patriarchal system never fails to reassure your ego, your power when something at work goes wrong. It’s sick. Sometimes it surprises me that you still acknowledge your wife when all you’ve done for the past nineteen years is silence her. You say it’s because you love us and that you’re trying to guide us but you’re preventing us from learning from the mistakes we’re never going to make. It’s why I’m always so anxious about the smallest things now – because I don’t have the reassurance that everything’s going to be okay even if I mess up.
What scares me more is that parenting is a cyclical pattern. You are living, breathing evidence of an oppressive childhood. I don’t want my brothers to grow up thinking that this is the best way to discipline their children. I can feel the rage coursing through my own veins and I feel so defeated at the times when I cave into it – when I burst at the smallest irritation, or when I don’t get what I want. Aren’t I supposed to move past that tantrum stage? Aren’t we supposed to move past that tantrum stage?
As much as I want to deny it sometimes, I am still made of your blood. Like you, I figured out how to manipulate words to express my emotions in the best way. Like you, I also have the extreme desire to voice my opinion when something is bothering me. Just because I’ve trained myself to lay low and stay silent in the times when you are most tense, doesn’t mean that my anger has gone away. The anger has tucked itself in the darkest corners of my heart because I know that if my friends saw that little bit of you in me, I would feel so ashamed. The anger has been overflowing because something about you treating your own family so harshly feels extremely wrong. The anger wants me to hate you with every shred of my being, to encourage my siblings to do the same, to charge some boldness into my mother so that she can help me build a wall around you so that you know what it’s like to suffocate from your own oppression.
There’s so much about you that makes you a wonderful dad. Your humor, your diligence, your hard work. My favorite memories of you are always when you let your facade down to showcase a sliver of empathy. In front of us, you don’t always have to be the strong one. You don’t always have to prevent us from messing up. You don’t always have to reiterate the defeaning echoes of fear that your dad had pounded you with. I know you are a loving, good-hearted person underneath all that pride. Yet it is so difficult to see the beauty in you when you treat us like this.
Here are bonus excerpts from when I was really heated:
8/22/17: I hate how angry you get at the first sign of weakness. Bodily functions that cannot be controlled due to failing health. You yell at your crying child and scold your ailing wife when they are both shriveled up from exhaustion. I wouldn’t know because I have a strong immune system but I hear everything from upstairs. You spite, your disgust, your fear – I hear it all in the shrill tremors of your voice.
9/13/17: It disgusts me how much you thrive off of belittling others. By “others” I mean the man who doesn’t have a job since he tends to his wife and kids all day; the girl who struggles and fails to get straight A’s; the grown woman who has compensated her lack of confidence with excess weight all her life. By “others” I mean your brother-in-law, your daughter, your sister. Anyone who fails to reach your exact interpretation of success, you demean with whispered insults and degrading remarks. You constantly preach of acting mature, but why does it seem like the only gossiping thirteen-year-old in the house is you?
9/13/17: The favoritism favors me but why does it hurt me even more than the other child you’re constantly reprimanding? It hurts when I see you restricting her freedom – times when she can’t even come home without being interrogated, times when she can’t bare to speak her mind in the place where she’s supposed to be the most comfortable. She’s not doing anything wrong. She literally comes home late because you told her to get involved in school. How does it feel to be known as the only bully in your daughter’s life? (In your first son’s life? In your sister’s life? In your mother’s life? In your wife’s life?…)
P.S.: I know this is a very risky thing to post online, and I also know that this much vulnerability doesn’t belong to the public, but I promise I’m not just writing on a whim in hopes that my emotions are enough to gain an audience. There is a method to all this and part of it is that I try to keep rationality on my side, especially when figuring out what to keep private and what to publish. I’m not trying to seek sympathy or complain about every single problem I have (I have actual personal journals for that lol) but I do hope that in one way or another, a reader understands and/or empathizes with this stuff. Again, if you’re going through anything similar, you’re not alone!
Thank you for reading!